The oft-delayed two-unit expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia took another step forward on July 21, as Georgia Power said several tasks needed for Unit 4 at the site have been completed and the company is readying the reactor for fuel loading.

The utility on Friday announced that Southern Nuclear, part of Southern Co., the parent of Georgia Power, submitted documents that said all 364 inspections, tests, and analyses of Unit 4 have been performed, and acceptance criteria (a collection known as ITAAC) for the reactor has been met. Completion of the ITAACs is required by Southern Nuclear’s operating license for the reactor, and the step provides assurance to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that the reactor meets the agency’s safety and quality standards. The ITAAC closure notice must be verified before the operators can being loading fuel into the reactor.

Georgia Power now awaits a 103(g) letter from the NRC to secure that verification, which the utility said would mean that “no further NRC findings are necessary in order for Southern Nuclear to load fuel and begin the start-up sequence” for the reactor.

Fuel Assemblies Delivered

The team at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Georgia, is continuing to prepare for Unit 4 fuel load and start-up; all 157 fuel assemblies required for operation of the reactor have been delivered. Georgia Power said the fuel assemblies—each 14 feet tall—were inspected and transferred to the fuel storage racks before being placed into the spent fuel pool. The assemblies will be stored in the pool until they are loaded into the Unit 4 reactor during the fuel-loading process, now expected later this year.

Hot functional testing of Unit 4 was finished in May. It’s expected that unit will come online no later than next year.

The Vogtle expansion, which was originally expected to come online seven years ago, has endured multiple delays and significant cost overruns, pushing its total cost to about $35 billion. The expansion is adding two 1,117-MW Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors to two existing reactors at Plant Vogtle that have operated since 1987 and 1989, respectively.

Construction Began in 2013

Work on Unit 3 at Vogtle, which could enter service later this year, began in March 2013. Construction of Unit 4 began in November of that year. Unit 3 reached first criticality in March of this year, and was connected to the power grid in April. The unit reached full power at the end of May, and officials said it is in the final stages of start-up testing.

The two new units at Plant Vogtle, which will join two existing reactors at the site, are co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and Dalton Utilities. The reactors will be operated by Southern Nuclear.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).